Wednesday, July 9, 2014

An Increase in Giving, But Fair Warning Needed

Like many of you, I was pleasantly surprised to see the Giving USA numbers for 2013, with overall giving increasing by three percent, adjusted for inflation.

While previous versions of the study showed a steady uptick in giving over the past few years—as had other surveys, including the Nonprofit Research Collaborative’s 2013 Year-End Fundraising Survey—few expected such a strong increase for the past year.

But look a bit deeper, and there are some troubling signs. As the Giving Institute (the publisher of Giving USA) noted, total giving was “given a lift by several very large gifts made by individuals, couples and estates in 2013.”

This trend mirrors what we’re seeing with the Fundraising Effectiveness Project—charities raising more money, but from fewer donors. And it explains a lot of what I’m hearing about from AFP members— who are reporting different and mixed experiences related to giving and economic rebounds.

There are two key reasons for this. One, there’s still a lot of uncertainty about giving after the Great Recession, and lower and middle-income donors probably aren’t comfortable enough yet financially to resume their traditional levels of giving. I think we’ll see those giving levels rise in the coming years.

But two, and more importantly, what we’re seeing is the growing concentration of wealth in the hands of the very wealthy. If that trend continues—and there’s no evidence so far to indicate it won’t—it could have a tremendous impact on philanthropy and fundraising.

I’d be interested in hearing your organization’s giving experiences so far in 2014 and what you think about the growing concentration of wealth.

And don’t forget, not only does AFP have a number of articles and resources related to Giving USA, but  AFP members get a 30 discount on ordering Giving USA resources as well.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Leadership Through Change

I need your help in changing AFP.

And it’s going to take you about twenty minutes.

That’s how long it will take you to help determine the direction of our association when you nominate someone (even yourself) to one of our boards—either our association board, or the board of the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy.

Change in our world is constant. We’re going to evolve—as individuals, as an association and as a profession. It’s inevitable.

But it’s not enough just to accept change. Success in our world means embracing and harnessing it. And our leadership has to reflect those ideas.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. We’re naturally resistant to change. And not only that, we are often drawn to like-minded people who think the same way we do. But without actively seeking out change, we risk getting tunnel vision and simply doing what we’ve always done because it’s worked in the past.

That’s not my vision of AFP, and it’s not an effective way to function as a profession. We all have to be willing to make hard, conscious choices about accepting and embracing new perspectives and ideas.

One of those choices is in the selection of our leaders.

If you haven’t thought about joining one of our boards, I urge you to consider it. Or if there’s someone you admire and respect—someone who hasn’t taken a leadership role before—I hope you’ll nominate them.

The deadline for submitting nominations to either board is June 27—though nominations for chair-elect are due June 20.

And if you don’t feel like you’re ready for the board, consider volunteering on the chapter level. In addition, AFP International has over 50 different committees and task forces on which you can serve (you can contact Rebecca Knight at for more information).

We need to change—all organizations do, continuously. And you’re the key. Take a little time and help us set the course for AFP and the fundraising profession.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Salary Gender Gap

AFP’s latest Compensation and Benefits Survey is out today, and I talk with Nikki of Nikki’s Notes fame about some of the key data, including falling salaries, turnover and the persistent gender gap.
There’s a lot to talk regarding the survey, and I’ll be covering other data in future blog posts, but I want to focus on that last issue for a moment.

For many years now, there’s been a wide gap between salaries paid to men and salaries paid to women for doing the same fundraising work. For 2013, male fundraisers in the U.S. earned an average of $94,497, while women earned just $70,145. In Canada, the gap was smaller—$85,780 for men and $76,826 for women.

With the exception of a couple of years, the salary gap is usually over $20,000 in the U.S. and approximately $12,000 - $16,000 in Canada.

It’s mind-boggling that we HAVE to address it, especially in a profession where women outnumber men considerably. There’s no GOOD reason for the gap.

But we do have a responsibility to address it, and there are a couple of things we, as a profession, can do. First is the top-down approach, where we continue to highlight the issue with boards, senior staff and others involved in the hiring. I don’t think any organization goes out and purposefully hires a woman so they can pay less. But since people tend to gravitate towards individuals similar to themselves, it’s all too easy to hire a man when it’s quite likely the board and senior staff are composed mostly of men.

In addition to drawing attention to the issue at the highest levels of nonprofits, we’ve also got to ensure that women—and any other member for that matter—are positioned with the right skills, knowledge and experience to achieve those positions, if that’s what they want. AFP will be working to identify and build career tracks and education so women are prepared to apply for—and most importantly, reach!—the pinnacle of our profession.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Key to Giving

Over the past few years, the definition of philanthropy—and what constitutes philanthropic action—has grown tremendously. Look at the rise of social media, crowdsourcing and different types of social responsibility such as giving at the checkout line—all new ways to engage philanthropically.

These trends are good for philanthropy. We need new ideas to keep philanthropy strong and vibrant and force fundraisers and charities to rethink strategy and tactics.

So I’m always taken aback by quotes like this from a recent Fast Company article about the rise of socially conscious buying: “Americans have done about what they are capable of or willing to do as far as donations go.”

Of course, giving levels aren’t great right now. Numerous challenges exist, including donor retention, changing donor demographics and expectations, new communications, public policy—the list goes on. We have a lot of work to do.

And part of that work is integrating new ideas. Many people thought that with the advent of email and social media, direct mail was going to die off fast. But it hasn’t, because it’s been integrated into our operations, and we’ve continued to learn how to best engage people with it.

I don’t believe for a moment that we’ve seen a peak in direct giving that we’ll never get beyond. If anything, I wonder that with all of the different ways to engage donors now, we’re just beginning to scratch the surface as to overall public support of philanthropy.

It’s simply a question of engagement. Philanthropy will always be changing and expanding, but people will give if we engage them in the right way. There are more ways than ever to engage, so it’s going to be a process of experimentation and testing. But once we find the right mix, giving will continue to grow, integrating all of the aspects of philanthropy.

Monday, April 7, 2014


We just finished up a great conference in San Antonio, and you’ll be hearing a lot more about everything that happened at the conference in this blog, eWire and the website through the coming weeks.

One of the big events in San Antonio was the launch of the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy’s BE the CAUSE campaign (formerly Every Member). Everyone who gave to the foundation at the AFP Hub, which was a fountain of activity, got their photo taken with a message about why they gave. You can see mine here.

I thought it was a great idea because it focuses our annual campaign on what matters: you.

You want to advance the issues that affect our profession. You want to advance ethical and effective fundraising because it builds trust with donors. You want to help prepare the next generation of fundraisers who will carry on our work.

The foundation is an extension of you, and your vision for the future of our profession. It’s about your passionate commitment to a cause that inspires you to be a part of this amazing profession.

In turn, the AFP Foundation supports your work as a fundraising professional. It’s about all of us working together—to shift the vision of fundraising to align with future demands, while continuing to uphold the ethical practices that are critical to our community of professionals. And providing important tools to you—such as our Ethics Assessment Inventory, research scholarships and diversity initiatives.

I support the foundation because fundraisers DO turn opportunities into reality. You have your equally important reason. And whatever it is, I urge you to support the foundation as well. It’s how we advance the profession.

It’s your gift. But it’s about all of us, working together.

BE the CAUSE is something we can all proud of, and something we can use in our own work. To learn more and give, go to the BE the CAUSE website.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

And We're Off!

We’re just days away from the start of the AFPs 51st International Conference on Fundraising in San Antonio.

It’s the largest gathering of fundraising professionals in the world. It features nearly 100 educational experiences and extraordinary networking opportunities with professionals from across the globe.

But I think what truly makes the conference so special is our community—the profession coming together to share and be re-inspired about the incredible change we make possible.

We get to experience the feeling of rubbing elbows with thousands of colleagues, representing a myriad of causes and countries, all of whom are as passionate as you about changing the world.

We get to share in the legacy of our honorees this year, including Eileen Heisman, our Outstanding Fundraising Professional.

We get to hear the story of a pioneer, Steve Wozniak, who not only changed the computer industry, but how we all work and live (and is now deeply involved in philanthropy).

We get to put our values in action by supporting AFP’s conference service project, AFP Gives Back! This year, everyone can participate, whether you’re attending the conference or not. We’re supporting the San Antonio Food Bank, and all you need to do is go to our project website and click on the “Donate to this Drive” button. The San Antonio Food Bank will also be collecting all of our unused box lunches and distributing them as well.

It’s a great project and a critical way we can show how our profession can truly make a difference.

And that’s really what our conference is about: a celebration of the difference we make—of what we make possible every day. Beyond the fundraising—beyond the education and networking and reaching goals--what we do is make dreams possible.

I’m looking forward to celebrating with all of you in San Antonio—to hear your stories of impact and change. Learn more about the conference in my recent Nikki's Notes chat! And if you can’t make it to the conference, follow everything that’s going on through Twitter with our hashtags #afpicon and #afpshift!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Significant Legislation, Even in an Election Year

There’s been a lot of activity on the Hill over the past two weeks, here in DC. We’ve seen the introduction of two major public policy initiatives: a tax reform plan released by Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), the chair of the Ways and Means Committee; and the Obama Administration’s 2015 budget.

Both proposals have significant implications for the fundraising profession.

The Camp tax reform plan, among other things, creates a two percent floor for all itemized deductions. It also limits the total annual charitable deductions a donor can take for contributions of cash—from 50 to 40 percent of adjusted gross income.

The Obama budget repeats a lot that we have seen before (several times before really), including a cap on all itemized deductions—the charitable deduction not exempted. As we’ve said many times previously, that represents a potential loss of $80 billion in charitable contributions over 10 years.

It’s tempting to say, in an election year, that a tax reform bill is too much for Congress to try to pull off. And a budget plan is always going to get scoured and carved up the minute it hits Capitol Hill.

But we CANNOT afford to ignore these proposals.

It’s clear the Obama Administration is still not getting the message. Despite numerous meetings, and continued assurances from White House officials that they understand the needs of the sector, the Administration seems committed to pushing a cap on giving.

The Camp plan is significant because it comes from the chair of the Ways and Means Committee and a leader in tax reform ideas. Even if it doesn’t pass this year, it sets the marker and starting point for future tax reform discussions.

We cannot allow these proposals to be introduced without a strong show of our concern and strength. Our advocacy sends a message to the White House that we will not be taken for granted. It tells Congress that the sector is watching how it supports the sector. And though our stories and advocacy, we show the government just how wrong-headed these proposals are.

Our leaders ARE listening when we get involved. One-third of the Senate, led by Sens. Wyden (D-Ore.) and Thune (R-S.D.) have signed on to a letter protecting the full value of the charitable deduction—an initiative AFP and the Charitable Giving Coalition helped support.

AFP has worked up a short fact sheet about the Camp proposal, along with a sample letter. Please, take a minute or two and write up a short letter, talking about what a loss in contributions might mean for your organization. I also filmed a special Nikki's Notes about this important issue.

And be on the lookout for an e-letter campaign on the Engaging Networks platform. We’ll roll that out to you and your colleagues in the very near future.

These sorts of proposals won’t end until we make Congress and the White House understand the importance of the charitable deduction—for our organizations, and the people we serve.

We CAN make a difference, and we need to now.